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43. Carol Smart and researching personal life

 
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The sociology of personal life goes beyond ‘the family’ and ‘the individual’ as ways of thinking about how we live our lives.

The Sociology of Personal Life deals with a cluster of loosely related and overlapping themes such as, family, kinship, friendship, sexualities, acquaintanceship, generations and consumption. It develops earlier sociological research on ‘the family’, which tended to focus on traditional, and narrow, ideas of who counts as ‘family. And it adds depth and complexity to the idea of the ‘social network’.

The personal is distinguished from the ‘individual’ and the ‘private’ for two reasons. First, the term ‘personal’ emphasises the social and relational character of people’s lives. For example, a focus upon personal life allows for a wide-ranging scope of inquiry that includes the five overlapping core concepts identified by Carol Smart: Memory, the Imaginary, Biography, Relationality and Embeddedness. Second, the terms ‘individual’ and ‘private’ have particular political or moral connotations or are identified with particular theoretical perspectives such as the individualisation thesis that, from a sociology of personal life perspective, has many problematic aspects.

The approaches outlined by Smart and Vanessa May, among others, can be used to provide new insights into areas of social enquiry, familiar and less familiar. These include secrets and lies in family life, relations between humans and animals, and how personal life is conducted in public places.

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